Mar 10, 2024 - World

Ukraine pushes back on pope's "white flag" comment

Pope Francis delivers his Sunday Angelus blessing from his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square on March 03, 2024 in Vatican City, Vatican.

Pope Francis in Vatican City, Vatican, earlier this month. Photo: Vatican Media via Vatican Pool/Getty Images

Pope Francis' comments that Ukraine should have the "courage of the white flag" and negotiate to end the war with Russia was denounced by Ukrainian and other European officials on Sunday.

Context: The pope was asked during a TV interview with Swiss broadcaster RSI for his thoughts on whether Ukraine should have the "courage of surrender, of the white flag" and negotiate for a ceasefire with Russia or whether this would legitimize Putin's forces, per a transcript released by the Vatican over the weekend.

Zoom in: "I believe that the stronger one is the one who sees the situation, who thinks of the people, who has the courage of the white flag, to negotiate," the head of the Catholic Church said in the interview recorded last month.

  • "The word 'negotiate' is a courageous word. When you see that you are defeated, that things are not going well, it is necessary to have the courage to negotiate," added Francis in the interview that's scheduled to air on March 20. "Do not be ashamed to negotiate before things get worse."
  • Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni later clarified: "The pope uses the term white flag, and responds by picking up the image proposed by the interviewer, to indicate a cessation of hostilities, a truce reached with the courage of negotiation" and that he clearly stated that negotiations "are never a surrender.'"

What they're saying: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba pushed back on the pope's comments in a post to X:

  • Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky in a Sunday evening address didn't mention the pope by name, but noted Ukrainians of all faiths stood up to defend the country after Putin's forces launched a full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.
  • He thanked "every Ukrainian chaplain" on the frontlines with the country's army. "This is what the church is — with people," he said. "And not two and a half thousand kilometres away, somewhere to mediate virtually between someone who wants to live and someone who wants to destroy you."

Zoom out: Bernhard Kotsch, Germany's envoy to the Vatican, said in a post to X: "Russia is the aggressor and breaks international law!" Therefore, Germany asks that Moscow stop the war, not Kyiv!"

  • Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski wrote on X: "How about, for balance, encouraging Putin to have the courage to withdraw his army from Ukraine? Peace would immediately ensue without the need for negotiations."
  • Latvian President Edgars Rinkēvičs wrote in a post to X: "My Sunday morning take: One must not capitulate in face of evil, one must fight it and defeat it, so that the evil raises the white flag and capitulates."

Flashback: Pope Francis calls for Easter truce in Ukraine

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